In a pivotal Star Wars: The Last Jedi scene, one character urges another to “let it all die.” The character is talking about relics of past generations: Jedi, Sith, rebels, empires. At times, this movie feels determined to do just that. If 2015’s The Force Awakens bent over backward to be like the original movies, The Last Jedi does the same to buck your expectations. It doesn’t “let it all die,” but it does clear away enough of the old to set the newest Star Wars trilogy on a surprising path toward its conclusion.
The Last Jedi‘s determination to move forward comes with good and bad consequences. On one hand, there are genuinely shocking moments in this movie. Characters you thought were good have a dark side. Those who should be wise act foolishly, and a single decent act doesn’t suddenly make a bad guy good. If you think you know which way this thing will go purely on a narrative level, you’re probably wrong. For a Star Wars movie, that unpredictability is refreshing.
But The Last Jedi treats many of the series’ vestiges with equal contempt, no matter how distant or relatively near in the past they are. More than one character or plot established in The Force Awakens gets unceremoniously blown up here. After Episode VII, this trilogy’s path felt too familiar; now, it might go anywhere, but that’s also made the whole endeavor feel shakier, like the plan might change again before it’s all over. The plot being unpredictable is refreshing; axing entire storylines from The Force Awakens before they ever had a chance to pay off seems sloppy.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up more or less right where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has traveled to a distant corner of the galaxy to get Luke Skywalker back in the fight, and General Leia‘s Resistance alternately flees and fights the much more powerful First Order. Without the need to introduce so many new characters, The Last Jedi does what middle trilogy movies do: It lets us spend more time with those already established.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is still a hot-headed but skilled Resistance pilot. Finn (John Boyega) is struggling to find his place in the Resistance as a First Order deserter. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has quite a job convincing Luke (Mark Hamill) to come out of exile, while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)–a.k.a. Ben Solo–battles his inner conflict, not to mention Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Leia (Carrie Fisher) leads the Resistance against overwhelming odds. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is still pointless. Chewbacca chewbaccas. BB-8 is still great.
Add to this already unwieldy cast: Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, an intensely likable Resistance maintenance worker who gets in above her head; Benicio del Toro’s DJ, a thief who toes the line between good and bad; and Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo, an utterly unnecessary addition who takes screen time away from better characters.
What really doesn’t help The Last Jedi is how grossly bloated it is with circuitous subplots, narrative cul-de-sacs, and detours that amount to little more than distractions. The movie’s main event is actually a drawn out stalemate between Snoke’s armada and Leia’s pathetic forces, which probably wasn’t a smart structural choice for a middle movie that would have threatened to drag even without a lengthy standoff in the middle.
Various characters on both sides give regular reports on the Resistance ships’ dwindling fuel supply, which graciously serves to signal to audiences approximately how much more foot-tapping non-action remains before the movie gets good again. There are entire schemes, mutinies, and double-crosses that serve only to tread water while The Last Jedi‘s many moving pieces all get into place for a finale that is, admittedly, awfully grand.
That sounds grim, but The Last Jedi gets many important things right too. Like The Force Awakens, it’s beautiful to behold. It’s also just the right amount of funny. Even the Porgs, which drew such a following before the movie had even released, provide the right amount of cute without feeling overused.
Luke Skywalker’s decades-long arc pays off in a way that Han Solo’s, sadly, did not in The Force Awakens. Yet Luke’s scenes never dissolve into pandering or fan service; in fact, his journey provides more surprises than any other plot in the movie. Carrie Fisher’s performance comes with surprises too, although the exact details of her plot will surely cause some to wonder how much of the film was changed after the actress’s death in late 2016. Regardless of whether we ever find out, The Last Jedi is a beautiful send-off for the iconic character and the actress who played her.
Most importantly, The Last Jedi provides real momentum and growth for its core characters. Poe, Rey, Finn, and Kylo were all right where we left them when the movie started, which made it easy to jump straight into the conflict. By the end, they’re in very different places.
Episode VII and, now, Episode VIII have accomplished something as difficult as it is crucial: They’ve made us care about a new generation of Star Wars heroes. Looking toward the past in these movies has been fun and emotional, but the new trilogy was always going to live or die by what it added to the series, not what it rehashed. And the journeys of characters like Rey and Ben Solo are starting to feel as nuanced and essential as those of Han, Luke, and Leia in the original trilogy. Regardless of where it ends, that’s something to admire, and despite its issues, The Last Jedi overall is as enjoyable a Star Wars film as The Force Awakens was before it.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Characters introduced in Force Awakens continue to evolve||Bloated with unnecessary subplots and distractions|
|Luke and Leia’s journeys and payoff||Some new characters add little|
|Stylistically beautiful and funny||Treads water for much of the middle|
|Subverts the series’ established tropes and provides genuine surprises|